Further dumping of salaries will make the lowly Islanders even worse
After enduring five straight playoffless seasons and seeing their team undermined by penny-pinching ownership and poor management, Islanders fans might feel as if they've paid their dues. Not yet. Club president John Sanders says, "We're committed to building a team around prospects," which means that in 1999-2000 New York has little chance of improving on this season's abysmal 24-48-10 record. To the Islanders' faithful, harkening back to the four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to '83 has gotten old.
Sources say New York will enter next season with a payroll of about $16 million, $8 million less than in 1998-99. (The expansion Predators had the NHL's lowest payroll this year, $13.7 million.) Last week the disintegration of the Islanders continued when they traded 29-year-old captain Trevor Linden to the Canadiens for the 10th pick in the June 26 draft. Linden, a restricted free agent, made $2.5 million last season. Now New York is shopping right wing Ziggy Palffy, one of the league's premier goal scorers, whom they signed to a five-year, $25 million contract in December. The Islanders plan to deal Palffy, who had 22 goals in 50 games last season, before the draft in hopes of landing a package that includes cheap talent and a high pick to complement their first-round selection (No. 5) and the one they acquired for Linden. Other well-paid Islanders may also be shipped out.
"If the organization gets a new building and gets sorted out at the top, it could be a great team to play for," says Linden, who was acquired from the Canucks in February 1998 for two young players and a draft choice. Yes, and with balmy breezes and fruit-bearing trees, the Arctic could be a great place to live.
New York's lease at Nassau Coliseum gives the team little revenue from advertising and ticket sales and provides no money from concessions. The Islanders claim they lost $20 million last season, even though their local cable television package is worth some $12 million a season, one of the most lucrative in hockey. Discussions with Nassau County to build a new arena have stalled, but even if construction began today, the arena would not be finished for at least four years.
New York's strategy for appealing to what's left of its season-ticket base (6,000 last season) hinges on a future that includes 20-year-old junior goalie Roberto Luongo, who's regarded as the top prospect in the world. Even if he lives up to his promise, which many young net-minders fail to do, Luongo can't right the Islanders by himself; the numerous draft choices the Islanders have collected will most likely need seasoning before they are ready for the NHL. In other words, for the already disheartened Islanders fans, relief is nowhere in sight.
Stanley Cup Schedule
A Change for The Better
To enhance its showcase event, the NHL should consider changing the scheduling format for the Stanley Cup finals. Instead of the 2-2-1-1-1 system in use for the best-of-seven series, the league should go to a 2-3-2 format in which the higher-seeded team plays the first two and last two games at home. Changing the schedule for the Cup finals would cut down on travel at the end of the long and grinding playoff road, enabling players to be more rested and to play better. Less travel also would save money for teams and for the league, which sends a cadre of personnel to the finals.
The NHL used the 2-3-2 system in the 1984 and '85 finals, and in both years the Oilers split the first two road games—against the Islanders and the Flyers, respectively—then came home and swept three at Northlands Coliseum. League executives were so spooked that the team with the home ice advantage got eliminated before getting a chance to host a lucrative third game that they reverted to the 2-2-1-1-1 format.
The current schedule ensures that the higher seed gets an extra home date even if a series lasts only five games. Having the home ice advantage in the postseason, though, has proved irrelevant to success. Through the first three rounds in this year's playoffs, the home team won only 39 of 79 games. The big advantage for the host club is at the gate; an extra game can be worth millions in revenue. To overcome that, the NHL could devise a revenue-sharing system if the higher-seeded team loses out on a home match.